Larned B. Asprey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Larned B. Asprey
Asprey60th small.jpg
Larry and Marge Asprey with their family, celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in 2004
Born (1919-03-19)March 19, 1919
Sioux City, Iowa
Died March 6, 2005(2005-03-06) (aged 85)
Mesilla Park, New Mexico
Nationality United States
Alma mater
Thesis Equilibria in the oxide systems of praseodymium and americium (1949)
Doctoral advisor Burris B. Cunningham
Known for Actinide, lanthanide, rare earth and fluorine chemistry
Notable awards
  • Glenn T. Seaborg Actinide Separations Award (1986)

Larned (Larry) Brown Asprey (March 19, 1919 – March 6, 2005) was an American chemist noted for his work on actinide, lanthanide, rare earth, and fluorine chemistry, and for his contributions to nuclear chemistry on the Manhattan Project and later at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.[1]


Asprey was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on March 19, 1919, the son of Gladys Brown Asprey and Peter Asprey Jr. He had an older sister and a younger brother: mathematician and computer scientist Winifred Asprey, founder of Vassar College's computer science department,[2] and military historian and writer Robert B. Asprey.[3]

Asprey received a B.S. in chemical technology at Iowa State University in 1940, after which he took a job as an industrial chemist with the Campbell Soup Company in Chicago. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941, and posted to Fort Warren, Wyoming. He applied for and was accepted into the Army Specialized Training Program, which allowed soldiers to continue their education for a time, and went to Ohio State University to continue his chemistry studies. In January 1944, he was assigned to the Manhattan Project's Special Engineer Detachment,[4] with the rank of technician third grade.[5]

Asprey was posted to the Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab) at the University of Chicago, where he joined the effort under Glenn T. Seaborg to devise techniques to separate and purify plutonium. There, with Herbert H. Anderson, he developed the PUREX process (Plutonium–URanium EXtraction); their patent "Solvent Extraction Process for Plutonium" was filed in 1947.[6] He was among the atomic-bomb scientists who signed the Szilárd petition in July 1945 to ask U.S. President Harry S. Truman to exercise extreme care in any decision to use the atomic bomb in the war.[7]

In 1945, Asprey and Winston Manning measured the half-life of the synthetic isotope 95242 at about 16 hours; the transient isotope was made by irradiating an early sample of the as-yet-unnamed relatively stable 95241 with neutrons. The product after beta decay was yet another new element, 96242. These new unnamed elements created in the Met Lab in Chicago were announced to the world by Glenn Seaborg on November 11, 1945, on the radio show Quiz Kids. Elements 95 and 96, originally called "pandemonium" and "delirium", were eventually named americium and curium by analogy with the chemically related elements europium and gadolinium. Asprey's later discovery, with S. E. Stephanou and Robert A. Penneman at Los Alamos, of the hexapositive, fluoride-soluble oxidation state of americium was one of the keys to the subsequent discovery of element 97, berkelium, at Berkeley, California, in 1949.[8]

While working in Chicago, he met his future wife Margaret (Marge) Williams, who also worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory.[9] They were married at her parents' house in Chicago on May 3, 1944; the Catholic Church did not permit them to marry in a Church, because he was an atheist.[10] They eventually had seven children: Peter Larned, twins Elizabeth (Betty) and Barbara (Barb), Robert Russell (Bobby), Margaret Susan (Peggy), Thomas Arthur (Tom), and William John (Bill).[11] Marge had seven sisters (including one who died in early childhood), and brother Grant R. Williams who died as a Navy test pilot.

Asprey was discharged from the Army in February 1946. He decided to enter the University of California, Berkeley, and get his Ph.D. in chemistry under the supervision of Burris B. Cunningham, whom he had worked for at the Metallurgical Laboratory.[12] He wrote his thesis on "Equilibria in the oxide systems of praseodymium and americium",[13] They moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1949, to work for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he spent the rest of his career. He retired in 1986 after conducting more than thirty-five years of research on actinides and lanthanides and related chemistry. He published over 150 peer reviewed papers and held eight patents.[6] He was the third awardee of the American Chemical Society's Glenn T. Seaborg Actinide Separations Award, in 1986.[14] His wife Marge also worked at Los Alamos, and was recognized for her work by the American Nuclear Society with the Walter H. Zinn Award in 2005,[15] shortly after his death on March 6, 2005, in Mesilla Park, New Mexico.[6]


  1. ^ "Dr. Larned "Larry" Brown Asprey". Obituaries. Albuquerque Journal. March 11, 2005. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Winifred "Tim" Asprey, computer pioneer and longtime professor at Vassar College, dies at 90". Vassar Office of College Relations. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  3. ^ "New College Receives Gift from Estate of Robert B. Asprey". New College of Florida. June 15, 2009. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Asprey 2014, pp. 105–106.
  5. ^ Asprey 2014, p. 111.
  6. ^ a b c Eller, P. Gary; Penneman, Bob; Ryan, Bob (Spring 2005). "Pioneer actinide chemist Larned Asprey dies" (PDF). The Actinide Research Quarterly. Los Alamos National Laboratory: 13–17. ISSN 1936-3109. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2014. 
  7. ^ Dannen, Gene. "A Petition to the President of the United States". Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  8. ^ Darleane C. Hoffman; Albert Ghiorso; Glenn T. Seaborg (2000). The Transuranium People: the Inside Story. River Edge, New Jersey: Imperial College Press. pp. 114–136. ISBN 978-1-86094-087-3. 
  9. ^ Asprey 2014, pp. 101–105.
  10. ^ Asprey 2014, pp. 110, 349.
  11. ^ Asprey 2014, pp. 114, 133, 139, 154, 156.
  12. ^ Asprey 2014, p. 120.
  13. ^ "Equilibria in the oxide systems of praseodymium and americium". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  14. ^ "The Glenn T. Seaborg Actinide Separations Award" (PDF). 30th Actinide Separations Conference. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. p. 8. Retrieved December 13, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Walter H. Zinn Award recipients". Honors and Awards, Recipients. American Nuclear Society. Retrieved February 14, 2011.